Reflections on My 66th

Today I complete my 66th orbit of the sun. Do I become reflective when this annual event transpires? Absolutely. There’s a difference, though, between being reflective and being obsessed with introspection. We are to examine ourselves—our motives and actions before God and others—but that’s a daily thing. This annual reflection is not the same.

First, it’s a matter of gratitude to the Lord for another year passed and for the good things that have happened during that year. Were there bad things? Well, of course; that’s a part of life as well. But I don’t want to dwell on those.

What stands out to me on this day is how the Lord rescued me from my own self-destructive tendencies and allowed me to be used by Him to help impact the thinking and the character of college students. That’s been my ministry now for twenty-eight years, and despite some of the heartaches along the way, it’s a blessing that the positive things come to mind more readily than the negatives.

For me, it’s always been the relationship with students that keeps me going because I believe that’s God’s primary goal for my life: influence them as much as I can while I can.

So many memories of class times, informal get-togethers, trips, etc., crowd into my mind. Here are just a few I want to share.

A trip to Plymouth, Massachusetts, that culminated with a stop at the grave of William Bradford:

One of the annual excursions I used to make with students when I lived in Virginia, such as this Jamestown visit:

Once, a small group accompanied me throughout the Northeast, incorporating Plymouth, the Boston Freedom Trail, Philadelphia, and Mt. Vernon, to name just a few of the places we passed through:

Commencements at Regent University were always special:

Once, at Patrick Henry College, a graduating senior decorated my office door in commemoration of all the tissues she used while crying in that office:

At Southeastern, I hosted a Reagan Movie Night once. It was memorable:

Students also came to the house to watch a BBC production about C. S. Lewis. They stayed and talked afterwards—a relaxed evening. I’m glad they felt like they could hang around:

How many professors can claim to have taught three brothers, all of whom were history majors? We had a reunion last year:

For a couple of years, I was able to connect Southeastern with my former life in Virginia when I traveled to Williamsburg and showed students the historic sites. They came down to Lakeland last year and desired a “family” photo, so to speak:

I could share photo after photo, but I’ll stop now.

I remember fondly the Dead Historians Society at Indiana Wesleyan University.

I remember fondly a trip to Israel and Britain with Regent students—a trip none of us will ever forget (for great and not-so-great reasons). It was a bonding experience.

I remember fondly my great surprise when Patrick Henry students presented a gift to me at the end of one of the chapel services: the complete collection of Calvin and Hobbes comic strips. Those who know me know why that was a special gift.

Yes, I could go on for quite a while.

How much longer will I have this ministry? My standard joke is that as long as someone can wheel me into the classroom and I have my remote control to show my PowerPoint slides, I can still do this.

God gave me a calling. I will remain faithful to it until He says it’s time to move on. Today I’m just reflecting on the blessings of His calling.

I’ll probably do something like this again when I complete my 67th orbit.

My Teaching Ministry–Part I

I didn’t want to teach. Public speaking always created a knot in my stomach, so to make that my everyday experience wasn’t attractive. I remember, as a freshman in high school, trying out for the school play only because my friends did. The shock was that they didn’t receive a part, whereas I got a high-profile one. I thought I would be sick and seriously considered bailing out. Yet I survived and did quite well. I went on to “star” in other plays. But that sick feeling never went away when I prepared to go on stage. I still get butterflies today every time I go into the classroom.

In college, I majored in radio, television, and film production, primarily to work behind the cameras. I did love history, so I minored in it, but never made the leap to a history major because I sensed it would lead to fulltime teaching. History was a nice avocation, but nothing I wished to develop further.

My degree led me to work at the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in the early 1970s. At first, I was doing what I expected, running an audio board behind the scenes for the television ministry. Yet as I listened to the CBN radio station, which was housed in the same facility, an almost unexplainable desire to go on the air began to rise within. So when an opening occurred—for the all-night announcer slot—I jumped at it. It was an education, to say the least. What did I learn? How to intersperse Christian music with what I hoped was significant commentary and how to deal with listeners who would call me. Both would come in handy as I branched out into teaching.

While working at CBN, I became attached to a local independent congregation that inspired deep Bible study. Eventually I joined the pastor’s small circle of young men he was preparing for the ministry. As part of that calling, I was tasked with teaching in various situations. I discovered an almost innate ability to communicate with the people in the congregation. It was natural for me to intertwine serious Biblical teaching with a sense of humor. The conviction was increasing within me that the Lord wanted me to be a teacher, one way or another. I didn’t know at the time what precise route that might take, but I remained open for God to show the path.

During my third year at CBN, the church decided to start a Christian school. The pastor obviously wanted someone with a college degree to take responsibility as headmaster. I had that minimum qualification, and since I also had a great desire to serve fulltime in the church, he chose me to serve as headmaster of the new school. One thing I can say categorically as I look back on that decision: a twenty-five-year-old college graduate in radio, television, and film production probably is not the best choice for the role of headmaster. I had no formal training in education other than what I personally had experienced. Also, at twenty-five, I was not mature enough to know how to handle all that would challenge me in that position.

What happened next? More tomorrow.

Reaffirmations

New Year’s resolutions are primarily a joke, especially the ones about losing weight. So I don’t bother with them. For Christians, they should be unnecessary. My life already was bought with the highest price imaginable on the Cross. My response to that outpouring of divine love should be a constant resolve/resolution to put Him first in all things and to follow His lead as Savior and Lord of my life.

Consequently, I have no new resolutions to make, but as a historian I recognize the passage of time as significant and realize the transition to a new year is always a time for reflection. So while I’m not resolving anything new, this can still be a great time to reaffirm that to which I’m already committed. Here they are in order of priority:

  • I reaffirm that my life belongs to Jesus Christ. I have no life apart from Him. There is no meaning to life without Him. I will therefore continue to develop that relationship above all others and seek to reflect His image as much as humanly possible with the help of His Spirit.
  • I reaffirm my obligation to nurture the personal relationships with which He has blessed me, starting with my family. My wife, Jan, who is still going through cancer treatments, must come first. I will continue to be with her through this trial and offer whatever encouragement I can. I’m often deficient in knowing how to do this, but I am committed to improving. Our children are now out on their own, and they have their own children. While I am not a daily part of their lives [except long distance via Skype and Facebook], I still want to be the best father and grandfather possible, under the circumstances.
  • I reaffirm the ministry the Lord has given me as a teacher. I will continue to strive to make my courses better each semester and cultivate a heart of love for the students who attend my classes. The same applies to the adult class I teach every Sunday and every other opportunity I have to speak truth before groups in my community and elsewhere.
  • I reaffirm my commitment to this blog. I don’t see it as a means to raise my profile for egotistical reasons, but I would like to be seen as someone who has a Biblical perspective to bring to life generally, and to history, government, and politics in particular. I would also like my words to help bring clarity to readers, so that after reading one of these blog posts, they go away with another solid tidbit to add to their reasoning. Yes, I want them to be pondering principles.

These are my reaffirmations. Today is a new year. What I want more than anything is to be able to look back on this year one year from now and be satisfied that I have fulfilled them. If I fail in any of them along the way, I will go back to the One who gives me this life, repent of my failures, and receive forgiveness and grace to start again.

Personal Reminiscence: Radio Days II

Yesterday, I talked about some lessons I learned while working as a radio announcer right after college. One lesson I left for today. It has to do with dealing with people.

Although I didn’t have a call-in program, there were some individuals who had the phone number for the radio station because they had been calling announcers there for a number of years to request certain songs be played. I inherited that tradition. The problem was that I was introducing newer Christian music at that time; they wanted the old hymns. Now, I like the old hymns, but I felt it was time to broaden the musical tastes. I think I alienated some of them in the process, although I believe I treated each person with respect.

The other matter had to do with counseling. CBN had [and still maintains] a counseling center where people can call in and ask for guidance and prayer. It was advertised as a 24-hour center. Often, though, no one was available to cover the all-night shift, so what happened was they flipped a little switch and every call for counseling—anywhere in the country where the main program, the 700 Club, was playing—came directly to me.

Keep in mind I was a 23-year-old recent college graduate with no real experience counseling anyone. This was a challenge that pushed me to the limit. I remember one call in particular, a woman who said she was going to commit suicide. She had concluded it was going to be alright to do so since God would never leave her or forsake her. That’s not my theology. I spent a couple of hours talking with her while trying to keep other programming going on the air. She hung up, still determined to carry out the deed—I was distraught, to say the least. I never found out what happened.

I also had another regular caller, a young girl who apparently developed a fascination with me. It got out of hand. She started calling my home, and when my wife would answer, she would get abusive. We had to change to an unlisted number.

What did I learn? Christian ministry is not all glory. It is hard work. People are difficult. Yet through it all, I had to grasp this one essential: these are the very people Christ came to save. In spite of how they acted, regardless of their indifference toward Him and their desire to serve self instead, He still reaches out to them.

That’s a lesson I have to keep learning day by day. No matter how hard someone’s heart may be, there is always hope. I cannot change anyone, but I always have to be ready to say and do whatever God directs me to say and do.

My experiences in radio were indispensable for what I’m doing now. I’m thankful for the instruction I received. As I noted in yesterday’s post, God will take every experience and weave it into the tapestry of our lives today. Everything we have done has value.

Personal Reminiscence: Radio Days I

Today and tomorrow, I’m taking a break from political commentary. I want to share more on a personal level. I guess I’ve always been a communicator, in one way or another. My undergraduate degree was in radio, TV, and film production. From the start, I wanted to use that degree in a Christian ministry.

My first after-college job was with the Christian Broadcasting Network, at that time located in Portsmouth, Virginia. Although I began as a behind-the-scenes audio technician for the television station, when an opening occurred in the radio ministry, I immediately applied for, and was awarded, the job.

I had no on-the-air experience, just some training in the classroom, but I relished the opportunity. The opening was for the all-night announcer position. That probably explains why no one else seriously applied. At least I could do less harm with a smaller audience. This job was a blessing in a number of ways.

  • First, I learned how to be creative, interspersing music with commentary, making the songs fit what I wanted to communicate.
  • Second, it helped me to focus more on the words I needed to use to communicate effectively; ultimately, it made me a better speaker and writer.
  • Third, while playing tapes of other programs during my shift (which usually lasted from 9:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m.) I had time to study. I became a devoted student of the Bible and theology during those years. I probably couldn’t have asked for a better assignment.

Perhaps only one picture exists of me as an announcer at this radio station—this is it. Notice the high-tech turntable in front and the really fancy controls. Well, things certainly have changed. My age in this picture was between 23-25. I looked happy. Most of the time I was.

I am grateful for all the preparation God gave me so that I might do what I am doing today. What’s even more instructive, for me at least, is the realization that life is dynamic, not static. Even though I expected the media to be my career, God used circumstances to change my direction more than once. Yet He will always use elements of what you have done previously. Life is a whole, not partitioned into separate compartments.

There’s another big lesson I learned in this job, but I’ll save that for tomorrow.